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July 31, 2002
Posted by Teresa at 12:05 AM *

If you’d asked me which city in the United States would turn up a heavy metal/speedmetal group that sings short bios of SF authors to further the cause of literacy, I would have said “Seattle”.

They exist: Blöödhag. Kevin Maroney pointed me at this one. They’ve got some MP3s up on their site. The only song I could get to play was Neal Stephenson, and I couldn’t make out a word of it.

Having also read their lyrics, I’d bet serious money that they know person-or-persons I know from my days in the Seattle SF community. Their songs are lively, crudely written, and display a familiarity with both the aboveground history and the low gossip of Our Beloved Genre. (Well, some of the gossip.) They even know about Bradbury’s crudzine beginnings. It’s not your standard reference-book fodder:

J. R. R. Tolkien

Who wrote the Hobbit, Two Towers and Return of the King…
J.R.R. Tolkien
Who wants to put Rankin/Bass’s ass in a sling…
J.R.R. Tolkien
The only fantasy I’d read to my children
But not the Silmarillion
Who wants to kill Ralph Bakshe for the Lord of the Rings…
J.R.R. Tolkien

Alfred Bester

Fifty dollar winner SF contest
proved Alfred Bester better than the rest
A few more stories pseudo-science non-stop
like the plot of the Bester book you couldn’t drop!
Wrote comics and radio on an eight year break
‘Til commercial TV proved more than he could take
He wrote the Green Lantern oath
He knew - what the Shadow knows!
When Campbell fell under L. Ron’s spell
Alfred said, “Man, you can fucking go to Hell”
Blöödhag think and drink to him still,
left his estate to his bartender in his will …
The Demolished Man!
The Stars My Destination!
Fondly Fahrenheit.

James Tiptree, Jr.

Surname from a brand of marmalade, Burst on the scene in ‘68
Influenced the Rolling Stones, whatever…
Can’t masquerade as a man forever
James Tiptree Jr.! James Tiptree Jr.! James Tiptree Jr.! James Tiptree Jr.!
Had a job at the Pentagon. Said “He” lived outside D.C.
But she almost blew his cover with The Women Men Don’t See!
James Tiptree Jr.! James Tiptree Jr.! James Tiptree Jr.! James Tiptree Jr.!
I Awoke And Found Me Here, On The Cold Hillside
Love Is the Plan, And The Plan Is Death!
Your Faces O My Sisters, Your Faces Filled With Light
These stories are too good to be written by a guy!
James Tiptree Jr.! James Tiptree Jr.! James Tiptree Jr.! James Tiptree Jr.!

Roger Zelazny

The page of New Wave bore Roger’s fresh face
Set the pace and taste for his time and place
In the Courts of Chaos Corwin struts in Amber
Only those of true lineage may walk the pattern
Bloody family feuds and a super computer in limbo
Don’t sleep without a pack of trumps under their pillow
Worlds of the fantastic - dense and specific, unscientific
New twists on old myths - man to God metamorphosis
So what his new hits ain’t as good or as thick,
It’s not his fault ‘Damnation Alley’ sucked shit
‘My name is Legion’ will leave no doubt,
or ‘The Doors of his Face, the Lamps of his Mouth’

Ray Bradbury

Pretty Good For Never Having Gone To College, Ray
But When I Saw You On TV I Felt You Owed Me An Apology
But Not For: Fahrenheit 451
Not For: Golden Apples of the Sun
Not For: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Not For: Martian Chronicles, Volume One

Harlan is going to kill them.

July 30, 2002
Simple, yet moving
Posted by Teresa at 04:35 PM *

Rabbit Foo-Foo, Lord, Kumbaya,
Rabbit Foo-Foo, Lord, Kumbaya,
Rabbit Foo-Foo, Lord, Kumbaya,
O Lord, Kumbaya.

Through the forest, Lord, Kumbaya,
Through the forest, Lord, Kumbaya,
Through the forest, Lord, Kumbaya,
O Lord, Kumbaya.

Catching field mice, Lord, Kumbaya,
Catching field mice, Lord, Kumbaya,
Catching field mice, Lord, Kumbaya,
O Lord, Kumbaya.

Bopping heads, my Lord, Kumbaya,
Bopping heads, my Lord, Kumbaya,
Bopping heads, my Lord, Kumbaya,
O Lord, Kumbaya.

The Good Fairy, Lord, Kumbaya,
The Good Fairy, Lord, Kumbaya,
The Good Fairy, Lord, Kumbaya,
O Lord, Kumbaya.

Give three chances, Lord, Kumbaya,
Give three chances, Lord, Kumbaya,
Give three chances, Lord, Kumbaya,
O Lord, Kumbaya.

Turn to goon, my Lord, Kumbaya,
Turn to goon, my Lord, Kumbaya,
Turn to goon, my Lord, Kumbaya,
O Lord, Kumbaya.

(Story development here ad libitum.)
Moral is, my Lord, Kumbaya,
Hare today, my Lord, Kumbaya,
Goon tomorrow, Lord, Kumbaya,
O Lord, Kumbaya.
Copyright 2002 by James D. Macdonald
“Y’see, at Scout Camp last week they were singing Kumbaya with the hand gestures,” Jim said, “so I was inspired to add a few more.”

Found art
Posted by Teresa at 09:46 AM *

This is an anonymous reader review, posted on Amazon, of Ghosts of the Titanic by James Cameron and Charles R. Pellegrino (nonfiction, 304 pp., William Morrow & Co., 2000).

*****Quirky, but in a good way, October 8, 2001
Reviewer: A reader from New York City

Pellegrino’s endnotes get a bit long, becoming whole chapters even after the book itself is supposed to have ended. But these little stories behind the story, including the fates of various Titanic survivors, explorers, and survivors of the exploration are worth trudging through (like Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story”) and had the author started the story itself with thank-yous to the teachers who helped a child wo could not read at all to the extent that he would eventually WRITE books and be doing science for a living, I would have thought it a little self-indulgent in a Titanic book and best left for what must be another fascinating book all by itself. There must be a life lesson in it. Same with the story of his sorrow after his wife left, which is also in his acknowledgements section and which also seems to be given as a life lesson. Anyone would understand the devastation: “How could the night get any darker? I had asked, never guessing, during my pity party for one, that what served for the moment as the defining tragedy of my life was in fact saving me from a rather broader definition of tragedy.” The point he makes is that the worst news he thought he could ever receive was causing him to change his plans to be on an airplane crash which no one survived. Those few sentences saved my son from watching a bitter divorse continue to get worse when I realized that the message of the missed plane, and the message of the Titanic, was that by a quirk of fate my boy might never know his daddy at all, so I made peace with my ex and I guess that message has never been made more clear than by all those orphans created by the New York and Washington bombings of September 11. I do have to say that the most boring parts of the book taught me more about rust and rusticles than I ever wanted to know, but while an article about that stuff would have been interesting in Discover magazine all by itself, it was boring in this book only by comparison to all the information about how the drunken cook became the only man on the stern to keep his balance, how the grand stairway floated up through the crystal dome, and how the Californian just stood seven miles away and watched the Titanic sink, how (with detailed drawings)minute by minute the ship filled and broke apart and how its parts slammed inti the bottom of the ocean at close to 40 miles an hour, and through it all you really feel like you are there. You feel it because you really get to know the people who were there and to feel it through them. No one writes like that. Or maybe not anymore. After Pelligrino missed the plane crash he moved to New York and he is still missing there since September 11, so it’s all quirks of chance, isn’t it?

There’s a logic to the piece that would be more apparent with standard paragraph breaks, and punctuation to set off quoted material, but I like the way its run-in paragraphing turns it into a single complex meditation on life lived in the shadow of random chance.

Towards the end the reviewer’s attention bends back around to a fascinated contemplation of the details of the disaster: one man’s strange chancy survival; parts of the ship crashing through another; the Titanic’s sequential disintegration and high-speed passage downward to finally bury itself in the ground.

Look again at the location and date of the review.

July 29, 2002
Drunken sailors and trashed databases
Posted by Teresa at 10:01 AM * 5 comments

I posted a short book review to Amazon almost three weeks ago, but it still hasn’t shown up on their site. This was after waiting a month after the book was published to review it, since Amazon had trouble believing it had come out.

To heck with it. Here’s the review:

What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?: Unexpurgated Sea Chanties, Compiled and Annotated by Douglas Morgan
Pomfret, CT: Swordsmith Books, 2002
128 pp. ISBN 1-931013-09-8 $9.95

I love this book. I’ve read it straight through a couple of times now.

It’s not just another collection of indecent sea chanties. The songs are indecent—no avoiding that—but Morgan’s commentaries on them are the real prize. He remains unruffled and avoids unnecessary vulgarity while displaying an encyclopedic knowledge of some extremely vulgar subjects; and while his scholarship is unfailingly sound, it is never dull.

He also avoids simply rehashing old information. For instance, I’ve seldom seen “The Captain” in print, and then usually in bowdlerized versions. I’m not sure I’ve seen “Guantanamo Bay” in any previous collection, and I know I haven’t seen its date of composition pinned down, as he does here.

But the real reason I’ve read and re-read the book is that it’s fun. These excerpts are from Morgan’s comments on “New York Girls”:

There’s a joke about how to guarantee yourself a good time on liberty: First, go up on deck, take out your wallet, and throw all your money over the side. Then go below to your berthing quarters. Take an old sock and put it in your mouth. Now slam your dick in your locker door. Bang your head against the bulkhead four or five times. Now hit your rack and go to sleep.

In the morning: Your head hurts, your dick hurts, your mouth tastes like shit, your money is gone, and you can’t remember leaving the ship. You must have had a good time!

How a Mexican general [Santa Ana] came to play such a prominent role in the seafaring musical tradition is something of a puzzler. One theory is that he got a boost from Saint Anne, the patron saint of Breton sailors. It’s possible that nineteenth-century Yankee sailors conflated memories of encounters with Breton sailors swearing by their patron Sainte Anne with then-current news stories about General Santa Anna.

Santa Ana himself eventually moved to Staten Island, where he helped introduce chewing gum to the United States.

How can you not like a book like that?
There now. Don’t see what Amazon found so hard about it.

Before I go any further, I have to say that I know Doug Morgan personally. That’s not why I reviewed his book; I praised it because I enjoyed it. The reason I mention the acquaintance is that any book seems better when you can hear in it a friend’s voice speaking. It may be over-scrupulous of me to worry about this.

Back to those delays. There’s a chance they may have something to do with Amazon skittishly deciding it doesn’t recognize the existence of the book’s publisher. Which would be silly; Swordsmith’s a small but perfectly respectable nonfiction house. On the other hand, the delays may be part of the more general problem of Amazon’s database being trashed, as described here in early June.

Update: Amazon’s database is still trashed. Just now on Amazon, when I clicked on Doug’s name to see the listing for his other book, I got Douglas H. Gresham’s The Narnia Cookbook, Sarah L. Morgan’s The Essential Arthritis Cookbook, the bookcassette edition of Morgan Llywelyn’s 1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion, Jeanne Masson-Douglas’s Virginia Lover & Other Poems, Craig D. Morgan’s Bluebell Field Drill-Hole Database, Duchesne and Uintah Counties, Utah, and, mysteriously, California City and County User Charges: Change and Efficiency Since Proposition 13 by Lloyd J. Mercer et al.

Buried amidst these misattributions was Tiger Cruise, Doug’s other book so far. I’m fond of it, in spite of its having had some Hollywood plot elements wished on it by some Hollywood people who got involved. That’s a long tale of human wretchedness and degradation—the book’s production, I mean; not the book itself, which is a zippy little thriller with good dialogue.

July 26, 2002
Posted by Teresa at 11:38 PM *

Erik Olson, was today really System Administrator Appreciation Day? Were you properly Appreciated, or did you teach your employers why, in formal correspondence, you have the letters “B.O.F.H.” following your name?

And by the way, how does one observe System Administrator Appreciation Day? I’m pretty sure flowers aren’t it. Should we decorate the festive SysAdmin tree with dead mice, dead CDs, AOL coasters, and festoons of perfetti? Stick a little spindle on a DWIM key so we can use it as a mini-dreidl? Try very, very hard to not be stupid?

Omelets from the beyond
Posted by Teresa at 08:23 AM *

There’s a weird thing that happens to me when I’m immersed in a text: I sort of absentmindedly cook while I’m thinking about what I’m working on.

This is not a normal value of “absentmindedly”. It’s more like Patrick comes home and surprises me by asking about the quart jar of preserves that’s cooling on the kitchen counter. Preserves? When did that happen? And then, if I think about it, I can vaguely remember that yes, at some point I was standing in front of the stove, stirring a pot of something-or-other. I have no memory of thought or volition; just a hazy sense that it happened.

It happened again yesterday. What you’d have to know is that the knack of making omelets has always eluded me. But late yesterday morning when I was working at my table in the kitchen, I suddenly got up and made a perfect three-egg cheese omelet with bits of spinach, green onion, and tarragon snipped into the egg mixture. It not only folded in half properly, it quartered, too; and there I was, blinking and bemused, with a plated omelet in my hand.

Reader, I ate it.

This morning I made omelets again. They didn’t come out as easily and perfectly as the last one, but my wordless memories of what my hands had been doing yesterday were very helpful.

July 25, 2002
Reviewing fiction
Posted by Teresa at 02:49 PM *

“Speaking of housekeeping,” Janet Lafler writes, “have you seen the article in Salon about Dale Peck’s trashing of Moody?”

I have. They miss a few bets. For instance, when they’re talking about US vs. UK reviewing protocols, they quote Charles McGrath of the NYTimes Book Review on deliberately setting up trashing reviews:

“There’s a certain kind of review that makes news. The Brits have a formula for this. You call up the author’s ex-husband or ex-wife and ask them to write something; it makes for lively copy. On the other hand, there’s a question of fairness and responsibility. We’re talking about writers’ livelihoods, after all.”
Very pious of him. But neither he nor Salon mentions some of the other tricks. For example: getting an author who technically writes within the same genre as the author whose book is being reviewed, but who’s way over at the other end of that genre, to do the reviewing — as when Marion Zimmer Bradley was persuaded to review Tom Disch’s The Businessman, a book she both trashed and (as was all too obvious) was incapable of understanding.

I think it was the NYTimes Book Review that did that. Or perhaps not; it was a long time ago. It does makes for lively copy, and it’s entirely within the rules as they explain them. Never mind that you’d have to be insane to set MZB to review Disch. They might as well have set Jerry Pournelle to review Marge Piercy.

There are other ways to misuse authors. It was Salon its ownself that ran the article Information Poisoning by Caleb Carr, when it must have been obvious to everyone on staff that Carr was in way over his head, didn’t understand the internet, didn’t understand—no, I don’t even want to list the related subjects he didn’t understand. Let’s just say he didn’t know that he didn’t know what he was talking about. The man made a fool of himself in public, and Salon helped him do it.

But I’m wandering away from the subject of reviewing. Consider this portion of the Salon piece:

Just because a critic doesn’t know the author he’s reviewing, though, doesn’t mean he’s free of personal agendas. Some of Peck’s detractors have cattily pointed out that his books, while generally well received, have been less celebrated than Moody’s. Peck, who has written three novels, considers himself, as he modestly told Elizabeth Manus of the New York Observer a few years back, “one of the best writers around,” a phrase perhaps unwittingly echoed in the first line of his review of Moody.
That’s an artful piece of bitchiness. They don’t demonstrate any actual connection between Peck’s good opinion of his own writing, the critical reception it has received, the relative glory of that reception compared to Moody’s, and the pursuit of personal agendas in reviews; but they manage to string them together suggestively just the same.

(Is Peck jealous of Moody? We don’t know. It’s clear he doesn’t wish he could be Moody. Judging from his review, he’d rather slide down a giant alcohol-soaked razorblade.)

It’s a double bind. If you’re less eminent than the author you’re reviewing, you’re open to accusations of jealousy. If you’re a much bigger deal than he is, you’re unworthily stooping to squash one of the small fry; or perhaps you’re insecure, afraid your reputation will be usurped by the rising generation of new writers. Et cetera. Add to this the difficulty of establishing who’s a bigger deal than whom: Does a short rave-up last year in People beat a twelve-year-old encomium in Sewanee Review? Do sales figure count? (But nobody mentions sales figures in these spats, except to sneer at them.)

There is no safe ground. Authors who write on similar subjects, or in similar styles, or for the same audience, are likely to find each other’s books interesting. This can lead those authors to review each other’s books in turn. Is it logrolling, or natural affinity? Is it better or worse than having someone review them who has no affinity for that sort of book? The answer is that, aside from the usual small number of exceptions, you can’t tell without looking at specific cases; and even then you can’t be sure. Not that that stops anyone.

I don’t want to cast myself as Peck’s defender in all things, but the entire second half of the Salon piece is stiletto-work. I could spend a lot of time explicating all the little moves that are going on there, but if you know to look for them they aren’t hard to spot, so go have fun.

And I do think Salon ought to have mentioned their publication’s historically friendly relationship with Rick Moody, not to mention a certain financial interest. Last year’s softball fangirl review-cum-interview of Moody’s Demonology could have been ignored, but this promo piece from August 2000 is a little harder to overlook:

The Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Authors

An opinionated, irreverent look at the most fascinating writers of our time.

An all-original, A-to-Z guide to over 225 of the most fascinating writers of our time, penned by an international cast of talented young critics and reviewers, “The Reader’s Guide” contains profiles, reviews, and bibliographies of the authors who matter most now — from Margaret Atwood to Tobias Wolff, Paul Auster to Alice Walker. Also included are essays and recommended reading lists from the authors themselves: Dorothy Allison on the books that shaped her, A.S. Byatt on her five favorite historical novels, Rick Moody on postmodern fiction, Robert Stone on the greatest war novels, and Ian McEwan on the best fiction about work.

Peppered throughout with marvelously witty illustrations, “The Salon Guide to Contemporary Authors” will reflect the intensity of your best (and worst) reading experience — it will inform, captivate, delight, and stir debate. Most importantly, it will answer the question close to the heart of any fiction lover holding a novel in his or her hands: why should I read this?

(Emphasis mine.)

Every rhetorical stance has its built-in costs. You can get away with blowing your own horn this hard, and publishing an audaciously gossipy literary guidebook with a preface titled “Who’s in the book, who’s not and why,” and an introduction titled “The death of the Red Hot Center — the story of fiction since 1960,” if you know your stuff right down to the ground.

How embarrassing, then, to have your chosen expert on postmodern fiction be denounced as the worst writer of his generation, and an incoherent fraud. It sort of throws doubt on your entire enterprise.

July 24, 2002
More housekeeping
Posted by Teresa at 09:36 AM *

Okay, okay, I’ve halved the length of time a post persists on my weblog. Sorry about that. It wasn’t such a problem when I was writing less.

July 23, 2002
Fast, happy fish
Posted by Teresa at 09:58 PM *

1/4 stick of butter, pref. salted
1-1/2 lb. beautiful fresh halibut filet
salt, pepper, white pepper, paprika

Wash your filet and pat it dry. Melt the butter in a serviceable frying pan over a medium flame. When it starts bubbling, lay your fish in the pan skin-down. Give it a quick sprinkle with the salt, both peppers, and a good dose of paprika. Gently push it around the pan with the back of your fork a few times while it’s cooking.

When the cooked layer is about a third of the way through the filet, give the pan a shake to loosen things up, and turn the fish over. Take a fork and remove the skin. Sprinkle on a little more of the salt and spices. Remember to keep pushing the filet around in the butter every once in a while.

When it’s starting to look done clear through but isn’t quite yet*, turn it over again. Be careful it doesn’t break apart on you. If things are going right, your filet should have a slightly crusty reddish coating where the spices have fried onto its surface, and be pure white in all the little places where it’s starting to split.

Turn the fire off and slap a lid on the pan. Wait three to five minutes, then serve.

*Test: Cooked fish loses its plasticity.

[Recipe Index]

July 22, 2002
The real marketplace of ideas
Posted by Teresa at 05:06 PM *

This morning in Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall discusses a startlingly apt piece by conservative columnist Christopher Caldwell, in his “Hill of Beans” column in the New York Press. It’s called Who Bought Bush’s Stock?:

[C]orporate scandals are hatching a catastrophe for Republicans. They will probably destroy this administration. …

What kills the President is that every time Harken comes up, Democrats get to retell the story of how he made his money. And this, basically, is the story of the spectacular unfairness with which moneymaking opportunities are lavished on the politically connected. It is the story of a man who has been rewarded for repeated failures by having money shot at him through a fire hose. It is the story of a man who talks with a straight face about having “earned” a fortune of tens of millions of dollars, without having ever done an honest day’s work in his life.

Caldwell briefly rehearses Dubya’s improbable business history: Arbusto, Uzielli, Spectrum 7, Harken, Texas Rangers. As usual, it sounds less like a modern business career than it sounds like those stories about corrupt medieval Popes consecrating five-year-olds as archbishop.

He continues,

For decades now, the “small government” Republican Party has been slamming the corrupt conduct of, say, trial lawyers who just suck money out of the economy and put it in their pockets in the name of the ideal of “representing the little guy.” When they talk this way, I’m all ears. But, Jesus, this is what they have to offer in its place?

It is no use to say this is an old story and that people don’t care about this stuff. In the flush times leading up until the 2000 elections, it’s true, voters were indifferent. But as soon as people start seeing their pension funds decimated by collapsing stock values, they simply cannot get enough of it. Don’t take my word for it. CBS polled voters last week and found 42 percent paying “a lot” of attention, and 37 percent paying “some.” That’s a total of 79 percent, a huge number—higher than the 70 percent who paid attention to the Clinton sex revelations in the very first days the news broke in January 1998.

Well, no kidding. The press always thought that story was a lot more interesting than their average reader did. But the stock market was down four hundred points at closing on Friday and lost another couple hundred today, and frankly I am scared.

I’ve been hearing from friends who’re watching despairingly as their 401(k)s dwindle away. These aren’t rich yuppies or Wall Street yahoos; just prudent working people who thought they had long-term financial plans going. An awful lot of money from small investors and non-financial institutions got put into that great bull market.

Monica Lewinsky was an old story the day she was born. Watching your retirement savings melt away like an ice cube on the sidewalk—that’s news.

A last bit of Caldwell:

What’s more, Americans believe the corruption is not a matter of a few bad apples but a society-wide state of affairs. …[T]he message Americans take from [Martha Stewart’s] insider-trading troubles is that if you scratch a rich person—any rich person—you’ll find some kind of game-rigging and corporate corruption. To CBS’ question, “Do you think U.S. executives are honest?” the answer was No, by 67 percent to 27.
It’s painful watching a conservative inching toward that realization. Spare a kind thought for conservatives and their ideals: Not because they hold them, but because they believe their leadership holds them too. They get seduced and abandoned oftener than a babe who has nowhere to go when the bar shuts down.

Molly Ivins has also been hammering on corporate scandals and the deliquescing stock market. She blew up spectacularly in her 18 July column, Take your ‘we’ and shove it:

There’s some stiff competition in the Stupidest Thing Said Yet department about the swoon in the financial markets. But among the heavy contenders we must surely count those who are now saying they know who’s responsible, and it is us.

According to this theory, you, me and Joe Doaks made Ken Lay do it. Came as a surprise to me, too. Naturally, as a liberal, I just love guilt, so I was ready to sign right up for this one, but try as I may, I can’t get it to make a lick of sense. Nevertheless, several of our heavy ponderers and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page insist that we did it.

It seems “we,” a word they use rather promiscuously in my opinion, were seized by greed and folly in the ’90s. “We” were so stupid we thought stock markets only went up, and “we” are whining like children only because “we” don’t understand that in the big, tough, he-man world of capitalism, we must take risks.

Who you callin’ “we,” white man? …

I can name for you the honor roll of people who regularly raised hell about this very thing in the ’90s — we were not “oblivious” — and we raised hell about exactly the structural, regulatory flaws that have now proved to be so disastrous.

“We” are not in the greedhead class. “We” are not the CEOs who increased their pay from 85 times what the average worker made in 1990 to 531 times what the average worker made in 2000. Over half of us still have no stake at all in the stock market, so be careful with your “everybody.” And many of “us” who do have a stake in the stock market are not day-traders or people who know dog about NASDAQ or any damn thing about the New Economy — which someone, not “us,” kept claiming was a perpetual motion machine. “We” wound up in the stock market only because “we” were encouraged to put our savings into these 401Ks, and that’s all “we” know about any of it.

She had some very sharp points in her column of 11 July about Bush’s big speech on corporate reform, starting with “Well, President Bush made his big speech on corporate reform Tuesday, and the stock market went down by 178 points.” Here’s where it wound up:
The rest of Bush’s speech was a stern sermon on corporate ethics. Considering the source, it does raise the always-timely question, “Is God punishing us?” How much cognitive dissonance can one people put up with? If Bush wants to lecture us on physical fitness, that’s fine, but please, not corporate ethics. …

The country does not need another preacher: We need someone who can run the country. And that means someone bright enough to notice systemic problems in the financial markets.

Since the president proposes nothing to fix the problems — the speech was basically a cheap sop to our schadenfreude — we can look for the situation to continue to get worse. We are already seeing a major pullout from U.S. markets by foreign investors.

You may not recall this because the media were totally preoccupied with Monica Lewinsky at the time, but a few years ago about one third of the world’s financial markets collapsed. A few citizens who were paying attention managed some thoughtful analysis of the problems, including the critical role of capital flight by foreign investors.

I can only hope it’s not our turn in the barrel.

One of the things that bugs the daylights out of me every election year is all the talk about taxes this and taxes that, as though your own personally-paid-out tax, and the way the government spends whatever money it collects from you, is the only way it interacts with your finances. Millions of otherwise intelligent-seeming voters can’t see past their indignation at the idea that someone might be getting a cushy deal off Their Money. It takes up all their brain cells, leaving no room for questions like why corporate taxes have been so piddling during the biggest bull market in history. Or why corporate bigshots who’ve been getting performance bonuses for years and years can turn out to have No Idea Whatsoever about what’s been going on in their company when law enforcement and the SEC come knocking.

If voters ever do get their indignation tamped down, the additional space gets filled with pointless flustering non-issues. Flag-burning, for instance: that’s good for any amount of content-free fuss and botheration. Some years everyone’s exercised about it, other years they aren’t, and either way the flag is still there.

Or take Monica Lewinsky, since she’s already been introduced into evidence. Clinton’s a skirt-chaser: film at eleven. So’s half of Capitol Hill, to estimate it charitably; many of the Republicans leading the “Impeach Clinton” effort were and no doubt still are shameless fornicators. They knew they were, and their colleagues knew they were, even as they pretended to be shocked by Clinton’s doings. They never were shocked. They just pretended they were because they thought it would punch your buttons.

They punch your buttons a lot. School prayer is not actually one of the biggest issues facing America. In fact, if the educational establishment announced tomorrow that they’d decided morning prayer is a good thing after all, and here’s the nice non-denominational prayer they’re going to be using, religious pressure groups would instantly be upset because it Isn’t The Right Prayer. Give them six months and the religious groups would be the ones demanding that prayer be taken out of the schools. The real issue here is that religious groups will reliably twitch any time you say “take prayer out of the schools”, and civil libertarians will reliably twitch if you suggest putting it in; so any time you bring the subject up it’s good for years of handwaving flapdoodle.

It’s as though the guys who are running things are reading the Wall Street Journal, but what they’re feeding the voters is the Weekly World News. They get us all exercised about fluoridated drinking water or politically correct nomenclature or whatever the flavor of the month is, and there’s a lot of sound, fury, and general fizzing about it; but when it’s over, nothing has changed. Meanwhile, while we’re distracted by this nonsense, the people who’re supposed to be our public servants are selling us out to the special interests for bribes, campaign contributions, and other considerations. The officials who do the selling make a good thing of it. The outfits that do the buying then turn around and gouge almost unimaginable sums out of the economic life of the republic.

Up at that end of the business, nominal party affiliation doesn’t matter. They talk about free enterprise, or at any rate some of them do; and they all talk about democracy. But they don’t believe in it for a minute. They belong to a club. You’re not a member of it and you never will be.

July 21, 2002
More cold recipes for hot weather
Posted by Teresa at 08:09 PM *

Have I mentioned that my mother-in-law, Jan Hayden, is the best civilian cook I’ve ever met? No kidding, she really is. When Patrick and I were staying with his folks in Toronto, it took me the best part of two weeks to notice we were eating vegetarian. (They’re not strict vegetarians; they just figure most meat isn’t worth the hit you take.) I think Patrick believes her mayonnaise can raise the dead.

Jan Hayden’s Mayonnaise

2 eggs
1-1/2 + 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dry mustard

Put everything but 1-1/2 cup of oil into a blender or food processor. Give it a good quick blending, then scrape down the sides of the bowl. Turn the machine back on again, and leave it on while pouring in the rest of the oil in a thin drizzly stream. On a good day the contents of the bowl will be mayonnaise by the time you finish pouring the oil in. Scrape down the sides again and briefly blend one more time. Pack into jars and keep refrigerated thereafter.

The mayonnaise will be a pale coral-pink color, and once it sets up it’ll be a little runnier than Hellman’s. If it’s too runny, try scanting the oil a bit next time. The oil should be fairly fresh, and the eggs should be the freshest you can get. Use default paprika, not the hot kind.


Ever heard of the Atkins Diet? It’s the one where you only eat protein and fat to start, and later eat protein and fat and just a little dab of carbohydrates. It burst on the scene around 1972, and got to be so popular that the A.M.A. and other pundits attacked it as bizarre, unhealthy, and just downright unreasonable. Low fat, they said; that’s the way to go. This was sad news, as the Atkins diet was the only one that ever really worked for me.

Two weeks ago, the New York Times ran an article, “What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?”:

While the low-fat-is-good-health dogma represents reality as we have come to know it, and the government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in research trying to prove its worth, the low-carbohydrate message has been relegated to the realm of unscientific fantasy.

Over the past five years, however, there has been a subtle shift in the scientific consensus. It used to be that even considering the possibility of the alternative hypothesis, let alone researching it, was tantamount to quackery by association. Now a small but growing minority of establishment researchers have come to take seriously what the low-carb-diet doctors have been saying all along. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, may be the most visible proponent of testing this heretic hypothesis. Willett is the de facto spokesman of the longest-running, most comprehensive diet and health studies ever performed, which have already cost upward of $100 million and include data on nearly 300,000 individuals. Those data, says Willett, clearly contradict the low-fat-is-good-health message ”and the idea that all fat is bad for you; the exclusive focus on adverse effects of fat may have contributed to the obesity epidemic.”

It’s an interesting article. Get a look at it before the NYTimes whisks it away. Basically, during the period in which the government has been pushing a low-fat diet, there’s been an epidemic of obesity, a rise in Type 2 diabetes, and less of a decline in heart disease than had been predicted. It would be simpleminded paranoia on my part to wonder whether US agribusiness’s powerhouse ability to raise cereal products has anything at all to do with this.

Never mind. Back to the high-protein diet Patrick and I started just a day or two after that article came out. (Knew it! Knew it all along! Dang! Why did I listen to those idiots?) Patties, chops, filets, and omelets can get pretty boring after a while, and the weather’s hot and sticky, so:

Cold roast beef roll-ups

1 lb. thinly sliced rare roast beef from the deli
6 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup of Jan’s mayonnaise
1/2 cup chopped scallions (green bits only)
a couple of scant handfuls of mesclun or other greens
salt, coarse black pepper, paprika, ground cayenne pepper

Let the cream cheese sit out to soften. Whip it up well in a bowl with a fork, then mix in the mayonnaise, then the spices, then the green onions. Take a quarter of your roast beef slices and lay them out in an overlapping pattern about the size of a flour tortilla. Take about a fourth of the cream-cheese mixture and spread it over the beef. Roll it up like a flauta. Roll that up in a square of waxed paper, twist the ends to make it hold, and put it in the freezer. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Leave the beef rolls in the freezer until they either firm up or you can’t stand waiting any longer.

Sharpen your best knife twice. Take about half your mesclun and spread it out on a salad plate. If you’re being fancy, save out a few small good-looking leaves. Unwrap a beef roll and gently cut it into slices like pinwheel cookies, trying not to squash it as you do so. Lay the sliced rounds on the lettuce in close order. Do the same with a second roll.

Now comes the fancy part. The ends of the beef rolls will come out raggedy and uneven, and look unseemly next to their brother pinwheel-slices. Take one cut-off end, unroll it, and roll it around another cut-off end with their cut edges flush together so the raggedy side forms a little roast beef rose. Arrange these on top of the pinwheels with the extra leaves tucked under them. Alternately, eat those bits while you’re cutting up the rest.

Makes two plates of roll-ups. If you can’t finish yours, put them back in the freezer so you can eat them as little frozen beef nummies at bedtime.

This recipe can be served to normal people without apologizing for it.

[Recipe Index]

Rearranging the furniture
Posted by Teresa at 03:53 PM *

I’ve finally put up a list of other weblogs, plus a much-too-short list of some friends’ websites. I’ve been putting this off because any time you make such a list, you’re guaranteed to accidentally leave off some old friend. If it’s you, I’m truly sorry.

Meanwhile, Erik Olson figured out why HTML wasn’t working in my Comments section. That’s fixed now. Links will have to invoke a href, but by now we all know how to do that, right?


Okay, Mom, here’s the magic formula. Bear in mind that everything in italics is a variable:

<a href=”URL you’re linking to“>visible text of link</a>

A link to Electrolite would look like this:

<a href=””>Patrick’s weblog</a>

(And Mom, if you already knew that, please don’t start singing the chorus of We Never Mention Aunt Clara at me again, okay?)

July 20, 2002
True Porn Clerk Stories
Posted by Teresa at 08:42 AM *

I just got sent the URL for the journal of a video clerk in a porn shop, and it’s utterly compulsive reading:

There’s a New Porn Freak in Town
Posted on 04-01-2002 at 03:01 AM

We have a new vistor to the porn section. He’s been in twice now. Actually, he’s been in at least three times, as he is a registered member, but he’s only stood out twice.

He comes in, goes down to the straight porn section, and whips out a hand mirror. Then he applies makeup for about an hour.


No browsing, no chatting people up, no whacking. In, mirror, makeup and out. And again, he’s in the straight section.

No one’s sure what to do yet.

The last time he was in, two clerks went down to ask him a) what was up and b) to leave. He pointed out that he was a registered member, and that he wasn’t stealing, whacking off, or bothering anyone. Since he wasn’t hurting anyone, why did he have to leave?

Nobody’s thought of an answer yet, and we’re not really sure we want to toss him for loitering. He is, after all, just putting on makeup.

But why in our porn section? It has such harsh fluorescent lighting.

I’m sure we’ll find out eventually. I can’t wait.

July 19, 2002
Monterey Bay Nursery
Posted by Teresa at 05:47 PM *

I’m sorry to say that Monterey Bay Nursery is wholesale only, because their stock is splendid. In the meantime, they have the most beautiful catalogue photographs I’ve ever seen, this side of catalogues that exist to sell photographs; and some of Monterey Bay’s photos would look good framed and hung on my wall.

Here’s something I’ve wondered about: Online catalogues compete with my local stores for my business. If I go into those stores, I can see the goods in question in fine detail. Yet some of the best-funded catalogues on the web — who, I repeat, are theoretically in competition for my business — are illustrated with small, low-resolution photos shot from too far away by someone who didn’t stop to focus. How am I supposed to know I want to buy their stuff if I can’t properly see it?

Monterey Bay Nursery’s photos are as good as holding the plant in my hand, and they don’t stop with one. For example, with Phormium cookianum ‘Maori Sunrise’—a nice ornamental that looks like colorful giant grass stalks—you get to see the whole plant, and the leaf shapes, and an close-up view. “Hansa”, a distinguished Rugosa rose, is shown as foliage, bud, bloom, new foliage, and fall color. And they’re beautiful. I used to use that photo of Hansa’s young foliage as the wallpaper on my desktop.

The descriptions are always knowledgeable, and usually brisk and businesslike, but if you watch closely you can catch them saying something like:

[Dahlia hyb.] Croydonflower — a big, large, gigantic, mammoth lavender dinnerplate.

* * *

[Rosa] 91Therese Bugnet92flowernew growthfall color — NOOOooooooooo! Not bug-net, lame brain! Say “boo-nyay, BOO-NYAAAAAYYYYY!” Drives me crazy. Beautiful, luminous, intense light rose pink flowers with a heavy, spicy fragrance. Somewhat grey foliage, very disease resistant, excellent vigor. Very nice.

* * *

Chondropetalum tectorumat Dave Leroy’s house before he so callously ripped it outjointed stemsflower/seed headsyoung plantanother shot of Dave’s plant (RIP) — one of the few members of the very ornamental grass-like family Restionaceae to appear in the trade, this beautiful species grows as a clump of thin graceful round leaves, with sheathed, jointed stems, to 492 tall by 892 across. Brown-black seed heads appear at the end of each leaf in summer…

Below are links to some of my favorite items in their catalogue. I was going to typographically differentiate the ones that are especially beautiful, but after several tries I just gave up. Ceanothus maritimus, Erica sessiliflora, Salvia regla, and the second photo of Grevillea boongala might not do as much for you as some other plant. Just click randomly. They’re all good.

Abutilon megapotamicum ‘Jack Dixon’ :: Acacia cognata :: Adiantum cuneatum :: Adiantum hispidulum :: Arctostaphylos densiflorus :: Athyrium nipponicum pictum :: Banksia ericifolia :: Boronia crenulata ‘Shark Bay’ :: Bougainvillea ‘Orange King’ :: Brachyscome ‘Billabong Sunburst’ :: Callistemon citrinus ‘Burning Bush’ :: Campanula ‘Blue Gown’ :: Carpenteria californica ‘Elizabeth’ :: Ceanothus maritimus ‘Frosty Dawn’ :: Cedrus deodora :: Chorizema cordatum :: Cistus hybridus :: Clivia miniata, orange :: Clivia miniata, yellow :: Dahlia ‘Bon Esprit’ :: Dahlia ‘Brookside’ :: Dahlia ‘Park Princess’ :: Dahlia ‘Rebecca Lynn’ :: Dahlia ‘Tanjoh’ :: Dicentra spectabilis :: Distictus buccinatorius :: Dryopteris erythrosora :: Eranthemum pulchellum :: Erica sessiliflora :: Eucalyptus ficifolia :: Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ :: Eustoma lisianthus ‘Mariachi Lavender’ :: Fuchsia ‘Korean Maid’ :: Fuchsia ‘Voodoo’ :: Gaura lindheimeri :: Gelsemium sempervirens :: Geranium cinereum :: Geranium harveyi :: Geranium psilostemon :: Ginkgo biloba :: Gladiolus tristis :: Grevillea austraflora :: Grevillea boongala ‘Spinebill’ 1 :: Grevillea boongala ‘Spinebill’ 2 :: Grevillea juniperina :: Grevillea ‘Long John’ :: Grevillea ‘Masons Hybrid’ :: Grevillea thelemanniana ‘Grey Form’ :: Grevillea thelemanniana ‘Magic Lantern’ :: Grevillea Willisii :: Hakonechloa macra aureola :: Helichrysum baxteri :: Houttuynia cordata variegata :: Iris ‘A Sante’ :: Iris, plum & yellow :: Iris, rosy pink :: Isopogon formosus :: Justicia brandegeana :: Kunzea affinis :: Lamium maculatum ‘Pewter Pink’ :: Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’ :: Libertia peregrinans :: Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Palo Alto’ :: Liquidambar styraciflua :: Magnolia ‘Atlas’ :: Nepeta ‘Blue Wonder’ :: Nolina species :: Omphaloides cappadocia :: Ophiopogon planiscapa nigrescens :: Parthenocissus tricuspidata :: Passiflora alatocaerulea :: Passiflora ‘Elizabeth’ :: Passiflora vitifolia :: Pelargonium ‘Morning Glory’ :: Pelargonium ‘Long Shot’ :: Pelargonium ‘Sensation’ :: Pelargonium ‘Americana Salmon’ :: Pelargonium ‘Americana Violet’ :: Pelargonium ‘Amethyst’ :: Pelargonium ‘White Nicole’ :: Pennisetum setaceum cupreum :: Penstemon ‘Cherry Glow’ :: Petunia ‘Celebrity Pink Morn’ :: Phlebodium aureum :: Phlomis fruticosa :: Phormium cookianum ‘Tricolor’ :: Phormium cookianum ‘Cream Delight’ :: Phormium cookianum ‘Fiesta’ :: Phormium cookianum ‘Maori Sunrise’ 1 :: Phormium cookianum ‘Maori Sunrise’ 2 :: Phormium cookianum ‘Maori Sunrise’ 3 :: Phormium cookianum ‘Surfer’ :: Phormium cookianum :: Pistacia chinensis :: Polystichum polyblepharum :: Pteris quadriaurita argyreae :: Rosa hyb. Cl. ‘Altissimo’ :: Rosa hyb. ‘Beautiful Doll’ :: Rosa hyb. Cl. ‘Cecile Brunner’ :: Rosa hyb. ‘Evelyn’ :: Rosa hyb. ‘Joseph92s Coat’ :: Rosa hyb. ‘Perdita’ :: Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’ 1 :: Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’ 2 :: Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’ 3 :: Rosa rugosa ‘Roseraie de l92Hay’ 1 :: Rosa rugosa ‘Roseraie de l92Hay’ 2 :: Rosa rugosa ‘Therese Bugnet’ 1 :: Rosa rugosa ‘Therese Bugnet’ 2 :: Rosa hyb. ‘Sally Holmes’ :: Rosa ‘Shailer92s White Moss’ :: Rosa hyb. ‘The Pilgrim’ :: Rosa hyb. ‘Tradescant’ :: Rosmarinus officinalis prostratus :: Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’ :: Salvia cacaliaefolia :: Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’ :: Salvia ‘Maraschino’ :: Salvia microphylla ‘Berzerkeley’ :: Salvia regla ‘Huntington’ :: Santolina chamaecyparissus :: Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ :: Scabiosa ‘Pink Mist’ :: Scaevola pallida :: Scaevola ‘Purple Fanfare’ :: Schoenoplectus montanus :: Sisyrinchium bellum ‘Bruno’ :: Stachys byzantina :: Stackhousia monogyna :: Tagetes lemmonii :: Tanacetum ‘Beth Chatto’ :: Thunbergia battiscombei :: Thunbergia gibsonii :: Thunbergia grandiflora :: Thymus ‘Rose Williams’ :: Tibouchina urvilleana :: Tradescantia andersoniana :: Tulbaghia violacea :: Verbena canadensis ‘Homestead’ :: Verbena canadensis ‘Rosita’ :: Verbena tapiens ‘Blue Violet’ :: Verbena tapiens ‘Lavender’ :: Viola ‘Royal Robe’ :: Weigela florida variegata :: Wisteria floribunda longissima alba :: Wisteria sinensis ‘Caroline’ :: Zantedischia ‘Flame’ :: Zantedischia ‘Pink’ ::

July 18, 2002
Cleaning house, and other inexplicable destinations
Posted by Teresa at 11:36 AM *

What happens is that Patrick goes plonking around on the web and finds useful and worthy information about stuff like books, computers, and politics. Me? The minute my mind wanders, I find I’m looking at a 17th C. painting of Jesus Christ eating a roast guinea pig. The first time Patrick showed me the web, back in 1993, he went off for a few minutes to do something, and came back to find me reading a discussion of saints and foot fetishism. I had no idea how I’d gotten there.

This keeps happening. I have come to accept the web as a sort of Rorschach Blot. Here are some of the things I’ve found while looking for other things, starting with the…

Secular pictures:

Molecular Expressions Photo Gallery keeps a Silicon Zoo of images which chip designers sneaked onto integrated circuits, like the one on this

85Silicon Graphics MIPS R12000 microprocessor. He appears to us to be a Tyrannosaurus Rex, but then again we’re not really experts on dinosaurs. Directly to the right of the dinosaur appears some of the names of the engineers who participated in the design of the chip, which was internally code-named the Trex. The silicon reptile is about 50 microns high.
Famous heroes of the kabuki stage depicted as frogs, by Ichiyfbsai Kuniyoshi (1798-1861).

A skunk that’s run afoul of a Coke can.

Religious images:

A wall painting from a church in Broughton, Buckinghamshire, c. 1470, showing Jesus being dismembered by swearers. You know all those guys in period dramas who swear by God’s wounds (“Zounds!”) and God’s knucklebones and the like? This is a warning against the practice.

In the same genre, this 15th C. wall painting from Michaelchurch Escley shows Jesus attacked by tools used by sabbath-breakers.

Jesus eating a roast guinea pig at the Last Supper. The cavy in question is that thing lying on its back on the central platter. This picture was painted for a church in Cuzco by a native artist who knew perfectly well what people eat at festive meals: red peppers, papayas, and roast guinea pig. (I found this on a site dedicated to the many excellences of Cuzco (or “Qosqo”), which site combines a wonderfully erratic grasp of English with an obvious passion for its subject.)

Back in July ‘01 I noted the availability of statuettes of Our Lord and Savior invisibly participating in baseball, football, basketball, track, hockey, and soccer alongside His children. No doubt due to overwhelming demand (it pays to advertise in Making Light!), they’ve now added a other sports, including martial arts, skiing, biking/rollerblading, gymnastics, ballet, and golf. The new set’s a little disappointing, though; instead of getting into the game, He just stands there looking benevolent.

Does a painting of The Blessing of the Vodka Shop count as a religious image?

A transitional object:

Biblical plaguedomes, from Products of the Apocalypse, are a gruesome variant on snowglobes. The basic model so far is a Swarm of Locusts globe you shake to make bitty floating locusts attack a harassed-looking man. They’re also developing a Three Days of Darkness model. These people should be encouraged.

Other utterly miscellaneous pages:

The Unofficial SFWA Awardball Statistical Abstract, subtitled “A Slightly Irreverent Look at SFFWA’s 31-Year Love-Hate Relationship With The Nebula Award.” Michael Kube-McDowell takes on the statistics of the Nebula Award with the same kind of loopy obsessiveness you see in baseball fans. (Yo, K-Mac! You need to update that thing.)

The Song of the Young Paleontologist, which turned out to be by Sasha Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy.

Beowulf ond Godsylla, ‘nuff said. Trading Cards are “…a pack of 24 cards featuring theorists and concepts close to the hearts of people interested in social and cultural theory, gender and identity, and media studies.” They don’t seem to have been meant to play with, but of course you can always argue about them:

Foucault tops online Trading Card popularity poll!

The estate of Michel Foucault was celebrating yesterday as news emerged that the French thinker had gained top ranking in the first online poll at the Trading Cards site.

Almost a quarter of the hundreds of votes cast on the site were for Foucault (23%). Fellow queer theorist Judith Butler came joint second, alongside Postmodernity (17% each).

Sociology fared badly, with Anthony Giddens (8% of votes) and Erving Goffman (5%) slumped at the bottom of the heap. Curiously, Theodor Adorno, critical theorist of yesteryear, didn’t do so badly (10%).

Analysts were divided over the results. Whilst some felt that it reflected the innate superiority of post-structuralist thought, others argued that it represented the triumph of superficial “trendy” theories over better-established sociological perspectives.

Furthermore, some commentators felt that the votes cast did not necessarily reflect an appreciation of each card per se. Anne Higgins, Chief Analyst at ADP Statistics, argued that “Users were simply voting for their favourite character. Many browsers visit for its Foucault content, and obviously will favour the Foucault card. That doesn’t actually mean it’s the best card. The Psychologists card got relatively few votes, perhaps because no-one likes psychologists. But in fact the card attacks the approach of many psychologists, and is my personal favourite.”

The Enchante Kiddie Karousel is constantly being redecorated, but day in and day out it’s the most relentlessly saccharine page on the web. Not for the faint of heart.

A collection of famous last stands, including Thermopylae, Hastings, Sempach, Waterloo, the Alamo, Camerone, Little Big Horn, Isandhlwana and Rorke’s Drift, El Alamein, and Bastogne. We pause here to remember the second most famous remark made at Bastogne, by then-Lieutenant Colonel Creighton Abrams of the 4th Armored Division: “They’ve got us surrounded again, the poor bastards.”

A recording of a 911 call from Joe, who’s taken shelter in a phone booth and “needs a bambulance.” It started, he says, when he hit this m@#$%f@#$%ing deer…

From the Department of the Navy’s Naval Historical Center website, which is full of interesting stuff, a page on The Philadelphia Experiment, sometimes known as “Project Rainbow”:

Allegedly, in the fall of 1943 a U.S. Navy destroyer was made invisible and teleported from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Norfolk, Virginia, in an incident known as the Philadelphia Experiment.


The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has stated that the use of force fields to make a ship and her crew invisible does not conform to known physical laws. ONR also claims that Dr. Albert Einstein’s Unified Field Theory was never completed. During 1943-1944, Einstein was a part-time consultant with the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance, undertaking theoretical research on explosives and explosions. There is no indication that Einstein was involved in research relevant to invisibility or to teleportation.

It’s exemplary writing of its kind. These guys know how to lay a story to rest while fully appreciating that it was, in fact, a darned good story.

A collection of musician jokes. (Q: Barenboim, Levine and Mehta all went down in a plane crash. Who survived? A: Mozart.)

The Angry Corrie, “Scotland’s First and Best Hillwalker’s Fanzine.” I don’t know the people, I don’t climb the munroes, but any time I go near this site I find myself reading large chunks of it. It’s as true a fanzine as ever pubbed its ish.

Photos of puddings, including spotted dog, boiled (or drowned) baby, treacle-dowdy, jam roly-poly, cabinet pudding, and a floating island pudding in the form of the Galapagos Archipelago; with appropriate quotations from the works of Patrick O’Brian. This is from the website for Lobscouse & Spotted Dog: Which It’s a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels of Patrick O’Brian by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman and Lisa Grossman Thomas.

While we’re vaguely on the subject, How to determine the amount of batter to use in cake pans of different sizes and shapes; along with other formulae and calculations, plus odd facts like the standard bag-and-tip decorator needing twenty pounds of pressure to work.

Passepartout’s Alternate Rose FAQ, in which he explains mysteries such as shovel-pruning, what’s so special about David Austin’s English Roses, the color orange, rose cones, how all rugosas are the same plant, “substance”, improving the color of your roses, how to deal with rose names in languages you can’t pronounce, organic fertilizers, and much more. There’s also a wonderful chart that translates terms found in catalogues. Some samples from the FAQ:

Q: Hybrid Perpetual? What’s that?

A: It describes the stage in rose-addiction when rosarians become too critical of their perfectly good roses and throw them away. HT’s are the most susceptible, being perpetually discarded after a few years. Hence, the name.

* * *

Q: I found a rose on my newly purchased property in Santa Anita del Vista Ray Mar, California. It’s got pink flowers, thorns, grows about five feet tall. Can someone tell me what rose this is?

A: No.

* * *

Q: What’s this Leonidas rose?

A: It92s a recently introduced HT. It used to be available only from florists, but they weren’t making enough money selling it, so the breeder decided to place it on the open market.

Q: Ooooo. I *must* see it. Be right back!

A: (tuneless whistling for a while)

Q: I’m back.

A: What do you think?

Q: Weeeellll. It’s different.

A: And?

Q: It’s… it’s, brown. Am I supposed to like it?

A: If you are a slave to rose couture, yes, you must like it, and rave about it, too. Only newbies and dullards would do otherwise.

Q: I see. I’m so bourgeois. I do see its subtle shadings. Yes, and it really is in the avant garde of rose fashion. I’ll just get me five or so.

A: Before you go, have you ever smelled the pungent fragrance of Austrian Copper? Only the best rosarians cultivate it.

Q: Ooooo. I must smell it. Be right back!

Sitting back and watching the corn grow
Posted by Teresa at 07:11 AM *

The Iowa CornCam is a webcam in a cornfield in Monticello, Iowa. It updates every fifteen minutes, which is the right pace at this time of year. You can see a picture here of the corn on June 02, when it was just a few inches tall. A month ago on June 18 it was 30 inches tall, and this week it topped out at nine feet, as related in the most recent report:

Monday, July 15: I believe the corn has probably reached its full height at a full 9 feet tall. The tassels are pretty much fully extended. The silks on the ears have emerged and the pollen is shedding. Everything looks pretty good.
The CornCam definitely has its fans. One of them was moved to write the Ode to an Internet Cornfield, which I am not going to quote. You can delight yourself with it on your own time, if you feel so moved.

The site is partly sponsored by Iowa Farmer Today, which has also added a SoybeanCam and DairyCam to this array of agricultural amusements.

July 17, 2002
Amazon made usable
Posted by Teresa at 03:41 PM *

Boingboing already blogged this, and I don’t care. It’s too useful. Basically, it’s Amazon stripped down to its working essentials.

We pause to observe…
Posted by Teresa at 12:59 PM *

…the hundredth anniversary of a great and noble contribution to human well-being. On this date in 1902, Willis Haviland Carrier, all glory to his name, invented air conditioning. Or, to be more precise about it:

On July 17, 1902 [Carrier] designed the first system that provided man-made control over temperature, humidity, ventilation and indoor air quality as a solution to the quality problems experienced at a Brooklyn, N.Y. printing plant, Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company.
A grateful nation pays tribute.

July 16, 2002
Communicator awards, and other coincidences
Posted by Teresa at 04:00 PM *

Those who managed to hack their way through my Fourth of July rant may recall my puzzlement that on the front page of the profoundly uncommunicative Op Sail 2000 website were the words, “Winner of the 2000 Communicator Award of Distinction.”

Imagine my surprise yesterday when I noticed that the Cris Robins Agency—Cris Robins is a soi-disant literary agent whose name came up in the comments following my Want to see a scam in progress? post—is likewise a recipient of the 2000 Communicator Award of Distinction. In fact, Cris Robins has four of the things.

(On the same page, she also says that she was considered for the Pulitzer Prize in 1996. This is fetchingly modest compared to her usual claim to have been “nominated for the Pulitzer Prize”. You know that trick, right? Anyone can be nominated for a Pulitzer. You just pay the submission fee and send in the nominated material—or save your money and just say you sent in your submission, since the Pulitzer organization doesn’t release lists of nominees. So many people make misleading claims about being “Pulitzer nominees” that it’s the first entry in the Pulitzer FAQ, under the tactful heading, “What does it mean to be a Pulitzer Prize Nominated Finalist?”.) (But I digress.)

After that, I just had to go look at the Communicator Awards website, to see what kind of an operation would give the same award to a grandee-sponsored outfit like OpSail and a small-time grifter.

Turned out to be very interesting. I hit paydirt on Communicator Awards’ Print Media page. They’re using frames, so you’ll have to click on the links in the column on the left-hand side of the page. Most of this will be under the “Print Information” link.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: This is one of those awards you give yourself, right? Nothing could be further from the truth. The Communicator Awards are much classier than that. Why, if you’re one of the Excellence, Distinction, or Honorable Mention winners, you’ll be given a foiled certificate at no additional cost! (The entry fee is $37.50 per single entry, $50 per campaign.) But that’s not all:

Excellence and Distinction winners are elgible for The Communicator Awards’ prestigious crystal jade glass award. Each Communicator Award is individually hand crafted from crystal jade glass with exquisitely beveled edges and deep carving on the backside. Since The Communicator Awards makes it competition accessible to more people by keeping its entry fees low, Excellence and Distinction winners will be charged $130 to cover the cost if they wish to commemorate the achievement with an etched crystal award. Additional certificates and awards are available.
Click on the link that says “Entries”. There are 160 different awards divided into 17 different categories. Finishing off the list of established awards in each category is a write-in line saying “Other”. The page says:
You may enter one project under multiple categories. Additional entry fees will apply.
If you do not find a suitable category, select “other” under one of the headings, create your own category, and write it on the entry form.
Is it just me, or does that sound more like a catalogue than a contest?

The link that says “2002 Winners” gets you a list of the guys who won the Crystal Award of Excellence. There are 298 winners, but some of them won multiple awards, so the total is at least 350. What’s weird about the list is that they just tell you who won. They don’t tell you which category they won in.

(I was briefly distracted by Waskul World Wide Communications of Glendale, CA, which won six of them. It seems a shame that Waskul World Wide is no longer with us. All that remains are the awards they received: the Golden Advocate, the Bronze Anvil, the PRo Award, the Gold Quill, the Videographer Award, the 19th Annual Healthcare Advertising Award. … On the other hand, Waskul World Wide appears to have administered the PRism Awards for the Public Relations Society of America. Igor’s head go round and round. I suspect there’s a story in here somewhere, but I have books to edit.)

Let’s go back to that fruitful “Print Information” link. I’m about to be cynical, even though I know there’s a chance that the minute I post this, a dozen people will pop up to tell me that the Communicator Awards are good and true and above all honest. How happy I shall be! In the meantime, I’ll take my chances with cynicism:

The Communicator Awards is an international awards competition founded by communication professionals to recognize excellence in the communication field.
Whoever they are. The site doesn’t list the founders, administrators, judges, or auditors. Everything’s run out of a mailbox address in Arlington, Texas, which is a smallish place halfway between Dallas and Forth Worth. Remember that.
The Communicator Awards gives winners and their clients the recognition that the work they are producing is outstanding and highly regarded by their peers. The Communicator Awards provides an equal chance of winning to all entrants, regardless of size and budget. Since there are no lengthy essays to accompany the entry, all work will be judged solely on its own quality, creativity, and resourcefulness.
Just what we all want to hear about our work. The bit about “quality, creativity, and resourcefulness” is especially slick. Most of us have a vague sense that we’re not the best writers/photographers/graphic designers/other in the Known Universe, but we’ll give ourselves full points for creativity and resourcefulness, and of course it’s axiomatic that we all think we’re good communicators.

Since there’s no documentation accompanying the submissions, I do have to wonder how they can judge resourcefulness. Producing slick artifacts in depravedly grubby conditions is practically the definition of the communications industry. I have, in an emergency, melted colored-pencil leads in a mug of microwave-heated water to retouch a mechanical, then painted over the retouched bits with colorless fingernail polish—but the point was that when I was finished, you couldn’t tell from looking at it what I’d done.

Each entry will be carefully scrutinized and graded by award-winning professionals who have been chosen based on their extensive experience and proven creativity in the communications field.
Remember this part too: Award-winning professionals with extensive experience.

I will also point out that in most judged competitions, we know who the judges are. I can’t help thinking that with 160 awards a year, I ought to know one or two of the judges. I also have to wonder how Communicator Awards finds extensively experienced judges when they’ve got seventeen write-in categories and you’re allowed to submit in multiple categories.

Entries will be judged against a high standard of excellence rather than against each other.
That means you can sell more than one award in the same category. It also means people won’t be as upset if they find out someone got the same award for doing a paint-by-numbers kit that they got for painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Maybe that’s why they don’t break out the award categories for the 2002 winners: It makes it much harder to figure out which recipients have gotten exactly the same award, and compare the quality of the work for which they won.

The Crystal Award of Excellence is given to those entries whose ability to communicate puts them among the best in the field. The Award of Distinction is presented for projects that exceed industry standards in quality and excellence.
The communications industry isn’t big on objective standards, and everybody thinks they exceed them. By way of illustration, recall that the slush pile is part of the communications industry. If you cite “industry standards”, you can give an award to practically anyone.

The next bit is where the foiled certificate at no extra cost and the prestigious crystal jade glass award came in.

We know there were at least 350 applicants for 2002. Let’s say only 50 of those paid the $50 entry fee for a campaign, and the others paid the $37.50 single-entry fee. That’s $13,750 in entry fees right there. But a Google search turned up websites that said they’d gotten Honorable Mentions, so there must be more. (There darned well ought to be more; it’s not much of a contest if there isn’t.)

Charging $130 per trophy is high but not extortionate. You can check that out yourself here or here, or at any other outfit that manufactures corporate motivational awards. I’m sure Communications Awards is getting a wholesale rate on all those glass tombstones, but I don’t think the heart of the scam is selling the trophies. I think it’s collecting the entry fees.

The Communicator Awards recognizes that entrants want to know the results of the competition as soon as possible and will make every effort to notify ALL entrants by mail, usually within 45 days from the deadline. Crystal Award of Excellence winners will also be posted on this site and will be printed in next year’s Call for Entries.

Included with the notification is information that winners can use in their marketing materials and web sites, and in preparing releases for their local news media, clients and prospects.

No awards ceremonies, no ads in trade magazines, no nothing. Just a notification, a listing on the website, and an award that comes in the mail, plus information on how to trumpet it yourself. This is strictly a DIY honor.
The Communicator Awards panel of judges will give each entry a grade. Those receiving 70 to 79 points will be Honorable Mention winners. Entries with 80-89 points will win the Award of Distinction. Those projects awarded 90 points and above will win the Crystal Award of Excellence. All Excellence, Distinction and Honorable Mention winners will receive a foiled certificate at no cost.
Arrival of the fittest. Most scientific.
The competition is open to all companies, organizations, or individuals involved in producing any kind of communication materials for external or internal audiences. To be eligible for a Communicator Award, an entry must have been produced after January 1, 2000.

Entering The Communicator Awards is easy. There are no multiple copies, special binders or matting requirements for print materials. If your entry is too large to send, an 8x10 photo will suffice. All foreign language entries must be accompanied by english translation.

Audio entries can be on cassette, CD, c” reel, DAT or CD-Rom (windows). Please submit slide shows and film on video. Video entries should be NTSC and can be on VHS, SVHS, Beta, Beta SP, DVD or CD (Windows). Multi-media entries should be in windows format. Submit web site entries on CD (Windows), diskette or provide URL Address. Entries can be on single tapes or combined on one tape (or CD).

My cynicism consists of suspecting that the primary qualification is that the piece be accompanied by a check.
A piece may be entered in more than one category at an additional cost. However, it is not necessary to send multiple copies of the same piece.
Hold it right there. Arlington, Texas. Smallish place. Unlikely to have all those award-winning professionals with pertinent experience you’d need to judge all those award categories. The judges would have to be spread out, wouldn’t they? Even if you limited yourself to judges from Dallas-Ft. Worth, they’d still be spread out.

Next point: There’s nothing very difficult about sending multiple copies of the same piece of work if you’re entering it in multiple categories. This is the communications industry. No matter what we make, we make multiple copies of it. The only reason to tell people not to send multiple copies is if you genuinely don’t need them.

In fact, it would make sense to send multiple copies if you were submitting in multiple categories, because there’s no guarantee that those categories will all be judged by the same judge—and as noted above, those judges are unlikely to live down the block from each other. You’d definitely need more than one copy.

Unless, of course, one or two people in Arlington are doing all the judging. That’s the only way I can make this make sense. If so, I doubt they’re any kind of experts. They just take your money and certify that you’ve won an award.

Maybe it makes you happy, if you don’t know any better. If you do know better, maybe it makes your clients happy. Whichever way you look at it, it beats the heck out of claiming your were nominated for a Pulitzer.

Or, as Swift put it:

So, naturalists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite ‘em;
And so proceed ad infinitum.

July 15, 2002
Perfectly medieval
Posted by Teresa at 09:30 AM *

This may not mean a lot to you if you’re one of those “Never take a course where they make you read Beowulf” types, but the scandal in the Catholic Church is generating cartoons that would have been instantly comprehensible to any twelfth-century parishioner:

The Cardinal’s telling detail.
The Cardinal’s reward.
A shiten shepherde and a clene sheepe.

(This noble ensample to his sheepe he yaf,
That firste he wroghte, and afterward that he taughte.
Out of the gospel he tho wordes caughte,
And this figure he added eek therto,
That if gold ruste, what shal Iren do?
ffor if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewed man to ruste!
And shame it is, if a preest take keepe,
A shiten shepherde and a clene sheepe.
Wel oghte a preest ensample for to yeue
By his clennesse how that his sheepe sholde lyue.)

That’s something you don’t see every day
Posted by Teresa at 07:45 AM *

Dale Peck, in The New Republic, goes completely off the deep end while reviewing Rick Moody’s The Black Veil: A Memoir With Digressions:

Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation.

I apologize for the abruptness of this declaration, its lack of nuance, of any meaning besides the intuitive; but as I made my way through Moody’s oeuvre during the past few months I was unable to come up with any other starting point for a consideration of his accomplishment. Or, more accurately, every other starting point that I tried felt disingenuous, nothing more than a way of setting Moody up in order to knock him down. One of those starting points was this: “Rick Moody is a lot of things, but he is not actually dumb.” This was an attempt at charity, and though I still think that it’s true enough, I don’t think that it matters; at any rate, his intelligence does not make up for the badness of his books. Another attempt: “In his breakthrough novel The Ice Storm, Rick Moody evinces a troubling fascination with adolescent sexual organs that is partially explained in his latest book, The Black Veil, a so-called ‘memoir with digressions.’” Again, the observation strikes me as correct. The problem here was in assuming that what most readers think of as the subject of a story has any role in a Moody project beyond giving his tangled prose something to wrap itself around, the way a vine will wrap itself around the nearest thing to hand, be it trellis, tree, or trash.

Yet another false start: “The Black Veil is the worst of Rick Moody’s very bad books.” Here the first mistake was in focusing on the books themselves, which bear the same relationship to Moody’s career as his subjects do to his prose: the former come across as little more than a prop for the latter, incidental, interchangeable. Moreover, Garden State, Moody’s first book—despite his citing “the proposition put forth by a vocal minority: that Garden State is my best novel”—is, in fact, even worse than The Black Veil; and “The Black Veil is the second worst of Rick Moody’s very bad books” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Stop reading here if you are looking for a calm dissection of the work of Hiram Frederick Moody III. At this point, the use of the diminutive “Rick” is about the only wise decision that I am willing to give him credit for. The plain truth is that I have stared at pages and pages of Moody’s prose and they remain as meaningless to me as the Korean characters that paper the wall of a local restaurant. Actually, the comparison is not particularly apt, because I know that the Korean writing means something, but I am not convinced that Moody’s books are about anything at all. In fact, it is only when I consider The Black Veil stripped of any pretense to content that I can ascribe it a measure of objecthood—not as the diagnostic, hermeneutical genealogy that it purports to be, but rather as the latest in what I have come to regard as a series of imitations or echoes of Moody’s more talented, or at any rate more authentically individual, peers.

A little later:
Moody’s badness is a little less inexplicable if you look at him as the lowest common denominator of a generation of writers—and readers: they, too, bear some responsibility for the condition of fiction—who have long since forgotten what the modernist and postmodernist assaults on linearity were actually about, and as such have lost the ability to tell the difference between ambiguity and inscrutability, ambition and bombast; of writers who are taken at face value when they are being ironic and who are deemed ironic when they are telling it straight—assuming, of course, that they themselves know the difference. Assuming, I should add, that they actually have a subject.
This goes on for pages. In detail.

July 13, 2002
From correspondence (2)
Posted by Teresa at 09:39 AM *

One rule always to live by is, never make plans to save the world in secret with a drunken Elf and without Jeeves. I came to this resolution a little late, but now it is graven on my heart. …
From “The Fellowship of the Woosters” by John M. Ford.

July 11, 2002
Bike-selling Scots strand Alaskan chicken hypnotist
Posted by Teresa at 03:31 PM *

Sent to me by David Levine, who found it in the Anchorage Daily News:

While she was trying on clothes at the British Heart Foundation’s charity shop in Edinburgh, Scotland, last month, the staff mistook Harris’ custom-made $1,800 bike for a donation and sold it for 10 pounds, about $15.


Her father, Steve Harris, who lives in Palmer, said she is staying in a hostel in Edinburgh. He last talked to her about a week ago.

“She’s upset about her bike, but the people in Scotland have been really good to her,” he said.

His daughter has always been a free spirit, he said. But he’s not sure how she became a fire-eating chicken hypnotist and ended up with a traveling circus. She had no background in the trade, he said.

July 10, 2002
Want to see a scam in progress?
Posted by Teresa at 02:46 PM *

Go here, to iNet Reviews. See the part about being able to request a copy of any book you want? No way. That’s not how it works. Publicity is the department that would handle that, but I have yet to talk to a book publicist who’s heard of iNet. I don’t know of anyone in the industry who has deals going with them. I also have yet to hear of a reviewer who wound up getting their iNet reviews published by any other venue, paying or not.

Last time I got spammed by iNet Reviews, their site was encouraging people to post reviews of books they’d obtained through normal channels. This means that the presence of a review for a particular book can’t be taken as evidence that that publisher sent someone a copy of it in return for one of iNet’s coupons.

Their system of sending out requests for review copies is irrelevant. So’s their system of having people post reviews that are supposedly marketed to newspapers and magazines. Those are red herrings. The real point of the exercise is to get you to send them money in return for their bogus request forms.

Cold soup
Posted by Teresa at 09:14 AM *

This one’s for Patrick, who just sent me a link to this filk, written by a Clarion student. Patrick says it’s all too true.

Come home, dear.

Cold potato-cucumber soup

1-2 quarts whole buttermilk
1-2 pints small red potatoes
2 large cucumbers
1 clove of garlic
1 generous bunch green onions
fresh dill (optional)
salt, black pepper, white pepper, ground hot red pepper

Scrub the potatoes and start them cooking. I microwave mine.

Peel the cucumbers unless they’re the non-peeling kind, in which case just wash them well. Cut them in halves or quarters lengthwise, then slice them reasonably finely. If you have a food processor, just run ‘em through. Put them in a bowl, sprinkle them with a little salt, and leave them to bleed.

Clean and chop the green onions. Use the white and the green parts. You can throw them in with the cucumber slices if it’s convenient.

When the potatoes are done, get them to cool down, then dice them as best you can. Ideally, they should be tender and sticky. If you’ve cooled them down by throwing them into a pot of cold water, they may be a tad wetter than you want. Blot them on some folded paper towels. In a pinch, you can adjust the soup’s liquidity by withholding some of the juice from the cucumbers.

Drain the cucumbers, reserving the liquid. Put them into a large bowl along with the onions and the diced potatoes. Start adding buttermilk, stirring, until you achieve the desired consistency. If you want it lighter, you can add the cucumber juice too.

Put one (1) medium-to-large garlic nubbin through a garlic press and add it to the soup. If you’re having fresh dill, add about a tablespoonful of it chopped.

Season with salt and pepper and pepper and pepper to taste. Ideally, you should now cover the soup and let it sit in the fridge for at least a couple of hours. In practice, we always wind up eating about two-thirds of it as soon as it’s mixed, then notice how good the leftovers taste next morning.

Makes however much you make. Volume is likely to reflect the volume of the ingredients you put into it. Serving sizes are your call.

Notes: Be generous with the white and black pepper, but parsimionious with the red pepper and the garlic. The latter two can get startlingly strong after they’ve soaked for a while in the buttermilk. You can go a little heavier than indicated on the dill if you’re fond of it, but don’t go overboard. Above all, don’t under-salt this. Buttermilk is sold unsalted for baking, but it needs salt in order to be palatable. If you’ve hitherto found it unappealing, that may have been your problem.

It’s okay to use reduced-fat buttermilk if that’s all they carry at your store, though it won’t taste as good. Fat-free buttermilk will taste thin. If that’s your only option, add about 25% more veggies so you won’t notice it as much.

July 09, 2002
Surname-i Vehbi
Posted by Teresa at 10:28 PM *

Westerners have a bad habit of forgetting the Ottoman Empire ever existed, but for centuries it was one of the great powers. Submitted here in evidence of that is the Surname-i Vehbi, which as the site says is:

…in the long-standing Ottoman tradition of preparing specially-written and illustrated books to commemorate the festivities that took place on special occasions such as royal births, weddings, and so on.
The original of this work, which is in the library of Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, contains 137 brilliantly-colored miniatures by Levni, the renowned court painter to the court of Ahmed III (r 1703-1740). The miniatures illustrate a fifteen-day festival held on the occasion of the circumcision of four of the sultan’s sons in 1720.
The images from the book plus annotations and explanations are indexed here.

It was a great age for public spectacle, as much so in the Ottoman Empire as in any other power of the time, and you do get plenty of that. But you also get that mixture of deep strangeness, unexpected familiarity, and technological surprises that I associate with really good science fiction.

If you’re already acquainted with the narrative style of masques and spectacles of that period, familiarity sets in as early as the Prologue, which as usual goes on forever and allegorically invokes the entire zodiac.

To give you some idea of the Surname-i Vehbi’s strangeness, here’s a scene in which “addicts” (another translation would be geeks) put on a bizarre performance in front of the Sultan and his retinue:

Adhering to the compelling order that must be obeyed, a group of addicts, a regiment of wretches who carried their souls in their pockets, drew up four to a line before the glorious sultan and then began competing with one another to see who could stagger about the most grotesquely. In front of the sultan they sat down as if in a parley and permission was granted to them to act out a scene from the coffee-houses of Sfcleymaniye before the sovereign as great as Solomon. Some of them sang exuberantly, uttering the words:

Opium is the most precious comestible on the table of life
It is fitting that it be worth life itself.
For someone who can obtain but meager joy
Opium is the water of life itself.

While others embellished upon the couplet:

Oh Vehbi! See what the coffeehouse-keeper has done:
He has served us coffee as insipid as dishwater
as if we were imbeciles!

And declaimed:

Oh cupbearer! Serve coffee such that
My lips should think it water from a well in Paradise.

Turning their minds to tobacco, they uttered spark-spewing sighs. One of them recited:

If you want to get higher than the Ninth Heaven
Chase your opium with two cups of coffee.

As he did, another, with his own head bent forward like a ripe poppy-head and his tongue hanging out like a smoke-enveloped flame of spent gunpowder, struck up an air singing:

The finest feast among friends who are kindred spirits
Is two cups of coffee and a pipe of pungent tobacco.

And as he sang, he accompanied himself on the trumpet of his nose with a noise resembling the buzzing of a bee. …

After that it gets weirder.

I quite liked the candy gardens and confectionery sculptures [1, 2, 3], which were obviously a species of sugar art, and the game of foot-jereed accompanied by music in the key of zurna:

[The sultan] gave the order for the game of foot-jereed to begin. Thereupon bass-drums worthy of Alexander and lesser drums worthy of kings were beaten with sticks in the manner of lovers beating their breasts and the instruments resounded with a terrifying roar while the airy glasses of the trumpets were filled to brimming by the bowls of the musicians92 mouths. Playing in the key of zurna, they uttered wild shrieks that reached the sky.

Like the zealous listeners of tales in a coffeehouse who, inspired by a divisive and deceitful insolence, suddenly and for no reason at all become enemies of one another and transform the place into a warriors92 battleground, the jereed-players divided themselves into two teams according to their pretended preference for cabbage or okra and stood ready with their breast-beating jereeds. Goaded by the shouts of stern-voiced sergeants, their patience and calm were snatched away and the two sides laid into one another. The jereeds hurled from both sides flew through the air like shooting stars. … When the striking with jereeds reached the temper of fighting with iron, the sergeants parted them, uttering soothing sounds and the issue of which side had won this battle of sticks was left to be decided at some other time.

A recurrent feature are the elaborate mechanical contraptions that were built for the occasion by members of the arsenal and artillery corps and miscellaneous forsas, many of whom were captive Christian sailors put to work as galley slaves and arsenal workmen. These were a big hit, especially the land-sailing war galley and the revolving fortress pulled by a mechanical elephant. Naturally, like a grudge match between the Death Star and the Enterprise, it was found necessary for the fortress and the galley to fight it out with each other.

Other mechanical contraptions turn up in the fireworks shows, where they’re featured as animated set-pieces [1, 2, 3]. There’s also a curious special effect whereby a stunt man is made to look as though he’d been stuck all over with fireworks and set alight [1, 2].

A troupe of Egyptian acrobats led by the talented Hajji Sahin puts on a series of remarkable performances [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], though at one point they’re upstaged by a common captive’s feat.

There are other fun bits. Don’t miss the explanation of the Sackers, the list of the grand vizier’s gifts to the sultan, or the numerous trade guild parades. The latter were a major occasion for showing off, as witness the demonstration put on by the coppersmiths.

All this comes courtesy of the Kanyak’s Aegean Doghouse website, the work of Bob and Mine Bragner. She’s an author and archaeologist; he’s a freelance translator, editor, and copywriter. They live in Foe7a (formerly Phokaia) on the Turkish Aegean. There’s additional interesting material on their site—a brief seismic history of Istanbul, an account of some Vikings who came to Constantinople, a bit on Foucault pendulums and eclipses, and more besides.

July 06, 2002
Folly is fractal
Posted by Teresa at 12:27 AM *

In the comments section following my post about Viable Paradise and the Evil Overlord Plot Generator, we’ve been kicking around a piece of story-creation software called Dramatica. Let’s just say it isn’t being hailed as the second coming of sliced bread.

Now Jim Macdonald has dug up some movie reviews on the Dramatica site, where the analysis uses Dramatica’s unique brand of literary theory.

1. Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice is particularly strong in its objective story range of choice vs. delay. It is also strong in its objective story problem (temptation) and solution (conscience). … As a side note, Jane Austen is considered one of the first “Regency” romance authors.
2. Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan, screenplay (principally) by Robert Rodat, directed by Steven Spielberg, is an epic WWII film without a Dramatica grand argument story. It contains an objective story throughline and an implied main character, stoic protagonist Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks). Unfortunately, like the eight American soldiers under his command, we are not allowed into his heart enough to become emotionally attached—essential for audience identification with the main character. (…)

There is no readily apparent obstacle character to aid in defining the main character’s drive. (…) Without clearly developed main and obstacle character throughlines, a passionate relationship (subjective story) cannot be explored.

3. The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project, co-writer/director/editors Eduardo Sanchez and Dan Myrick’s faux documentary about an urban legend, has created its own mythology. (…) Survival of the fittest is one take on the story…
4. Shakespeare in Love
Shakespeare in Love, a fictional account of the life that inspired the art—Romeo and Juliet, is an excellent and lamentable original screenplay by Marc Norman and playwright Tom Stoppard, its every word and staged action a tribute to the Bard.
5. The Phantom Menace
The real menace in the latest Star Wars saga is the non-existent Dramatica grand argument story. There is an objective story, although I’m not quite sure if the problems stem from Queen Amidala and her planet Naboo’s intolerable situation (universe), or the action packed endeavor (physics) to restore “peace and prosperity.” Unfortunately, I fell asleep during the battle scenes and spaceship chases (heresy!) exhausted from the effort of determining: Who is the main character?
It’s squarely in the running for second-worst review site on the web, right after that unsupplantable champion,

It’s the Dramatica crew’s analysis of Saving Private Ryan that really makes me want to beat my head against a wall. The only reason to think we can’t get inside the head of the character played by Tom Hanks is that the character says so—but you don’t take a character’s word for that, especially when the rest of the work says otherwise. And if there’s no obstacle character present, what do you call the entire German Army—chopped liver?

July 05, 2002
Score while driving
Posted by Teresa at 06:59 PM *

Sighted this past Wednesday, during a hot slow eight-hour drive that should have taken six: two herons, two wild turkeys, a red-headed woodpecker, and a family of ospreys in their nest. The memory of the heat is fading; the birds remain splendid.

Next you’ll tell me you’ve never seen Hampsterdance
Posted by Teresa at 08:30 AM *

A while back, I referred to quicktime movies of water balloons being popped in freefall as “The greatest footage since the LOX barbecue and the exploding whale.” I promptly got mail asking what LOX barbecue? And what exploding whale?

Well, okay. Feels weird, but I can do that. Won’t take but a minute. I’ll throw in some other golden oldies while I’m at it.

1. The famous exploding whale video, at this site and that site, both of which feel they’re definitive. If you have trouble running videos on your computer, here’s a filmstrip version of it. And this site has the original footage, plus an additional Swedish whale explosion!

2. The equally famous LOX barbecue video, wherein George Goble uses liquid oxygen to light the charcoal in two barbecue grills.

3. An unlikely interaction between a flooding river, a low bridge, and a tugboat.

4. The flaming toaster, here and here, demonstrating that strawberry Pop-Tart + toaster = incendiary device.

5. The sparkler bomb, with instructions on making your own; in which Daniel Rutter shows how you can overcome the limitations of “safe and sane” fireworks if only you use enough of them at once.

6. Making an incandescent light out of a pickle. Some additional theory on why this works.

7. Dogs in Elk. A famous thread from Salon’s “Table Talk”, memorialized as Dogs in Elk in Vegetables: A Halloween Tribute. It’s now illustrated with pictures of an appropriately carved pumpkin splattered with tomato sauce. And here’s Anne Verchick, main storyteller and the owner of the dogs in question, confirming that it really did happen, and giving a little more background. She adds that the all-vegetable illustrations are “… on a smaller, more vegetative scale, really pretty faithful to what was one of the messier experiences of my recent life.”

8. The Rice University Twinkie Project.

9. Tormenting marshmallow Peeps in the name of science. Peeps have become a cult, as witness this collection of links.

10. Apocamon: The Final Judgement. The Apocalypse — that is, the Revelation of St. John the Divine — enacted by cute pastel pokemon-critters.

11. I’d point you at Hampsterdance, but alas, it’s not there anymore. There’s a replacement site, Hampsterdance 2, but its animated art is cruder (if more elaborate), and it lacks the mystery and simplicity that made the original so hypnotically funny.

Update: Fran Wolber sends me links to sites cloned off the original Hampsterdance, though neither is an exact copy. You get your choice of an ensmalled version in Dutch, or a somewhat jumbled version in German. The raptly spinning Sufi-hamsters continue to be sublime.

July 04, 2002
The luck of the Glorious Fourth
Posted by Teresa at 02:23 PM *

As everyone knows, the turning point for New York City’s long spell of bad luck — which, depending on your point of view, started either with the ascendancy of Robert Moses, or the loss of the Dodgers — was when the tall ships sailed into the harbor as part of the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations. Every description I’ve heard from New Yorkers who were there to see it has been lyrical: It was magic, a descent of grace and glory upon a city that has always and primordially and continually been one of the great harbors of the world.

I firmly believe that what broke the city’s run of luck was the Op Sail 2000 debacle. You’ll be hard pressed to find any mention on the web of the debacle part, since most accounts were written by people who got to see the event. (The common folk posted pictures taken from a distance, or from New Jersey.)

Basically, they set up a heavily guarded perimeter and closed off the entire prime viewing area, all the waterfront from Battery Park City to up around 14th Street, to anyone who didn’t have a ticket—and the ticketing period had opened and closed long before the day. This came as an unpleasant surprise to the thousands of happy New Yorkers who went there that morning, expecting to see the tall ships sail up the Hudson. I know; I was in that crowd.

On the day, when I asked someone associated with the event where and when this ticketing had been announced, she vaguely said it had been in the neighborhood papers. That’s a new one; I hadn’t realized the waterfront was the sole property of the immediately adjacent neighborhoods. And maybe there were other announcements and I just missed them; but I don’t think so. Here’s Op Sail 2000’s announcement of it, preserved on an old page of the Hudson River Fisherman’s Association (HRFA) website. The pertinent bit says:

A high level U.S. dignitary will transit aboard a U.S.Navy vessel along this line as a ceremonial review. The proposed regulations create temporary anchorage regulations, vessel movement controls, and two security zones. The regulations will be in effect at various times in the Port of New York and New Jersey during the period June 29, 2000 through July 5, 2000. The vessel congestion due to the large number of participating and spectator vessels poses a significant threat to the safety of life. This proposed rulemaking is necessary to ensure the safety of life on the navigable waters of the United States.
Mumbling about there being “two security zones” is a far cry from explaining that on the Fourth of July, when there’s a parade of tall ships in the harbor, you’re going to be closing off the waterfront esplanade and the contiguous parks to the citizenry. I don’t think the HRFA understood that part either, because their members were presumably interested parties, and all they told them in their own newletter was that:
This event will have a affect on all boating and marina activities for the several days that surround the Forth of July. Be prepared for the crowds.
“Hello, you aren’t going to be able to get anywhere near the Battery Park City marina” would have been more like it.

The official Op Sail website is profoundly uncommunicative—one of those impervious corporate-speak sites that look like a four-color glossy sales brochure translated straight into pixels. It has a few tasteful photos, a short laudatory introduction by Walter Cronkite, and some further dribs and drabs of superficial copy that read like a corporate mission statement. (Strangely enough, their front page says “Winner of the 2000 Communicator Award of Distinction.”)

I doubt the snafu was just security gone berserk. We don’t have exclusion zones like that when the United Nations is hosting world leaders by the dozen. You can walk down along the row of consulates, playing “suits and muscle” as you go, then past the UN to have a look at the heavily-armed security guys in body armor standing on its roof. They don’t try to close off the East Side.

In fact, the only other occasion I’ve seen handled like that was the non-inauguration in Washington, a year and a half ago. There was that exact same use of euphemistic “security zones” and ticketing to exclude the common citizenry from what had been common ground.

I’m not drawing a simple parallel. I could, and so could you, but that’s not what I’m going after. I’m saying, perhaps irrationally, that solemn patriotic observances like the Fourth of July and Inauguration Day, when we invoke liberty and democracy, are a singularly unlucky time to be pulling this nomenklaturoid crap.

For years now, I’ve been bothered by the way some commentators talk about groups they don’t like—liberals, the poor, homosexuals, immigrants—as though they were hoping they’d up and vanish into thin air. Bad idea. Bad, bad precedent. Don’t kid yourself that they could never wind up excluding you. Aristocracies can get by with a surprisingly tiny number of members, and there’s only so much beachfront property in the world.

July 02, 2002
New sofabed for sale, and other developments
Posted by Teresa at 12:48 PM *

Vanessa Felice needs to offload it. It’s been slept on exactly twice, which is less use than it would get on a showroom floor; also she’s a nonsmoker and doesn’t have a cat, if that’s a concern. The store listed the sofabed as a queen, but Vanessa thinks it’s a full. It’s upholstered in woven fabric, “kind of a brown and tan floral kind of thing.” It was $1,000 from Seaman’s. Vanessa will take $650, including delivery if you live in NYC. If you don’t have any sofabed sheets, she’ll throw those in too.

And while we’re on the subject: If you’re looking for an assistant (types, files, runs interference; has great phone skills, common sense, and work experience in several chronically frantic industries), Vanessa is also available. Send queries on either subject to me at, or post them in the Comments section, and I’ll pass them on to her.

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